For many involved in forest conservation and management there had long been concerns about the general lack of knowledge of how U.S. private forest owners managed their lands. About one-third of all forestland in the U.S. is owned by private individuals or families, but in most cases these owners don’t develop long-term management plans — a fact that leaves vast expanses of property vulnerable to degradation, fragmentation, and development.
In 2003, Tyrrell joined a small group of individuals from business, government, academia, and the NGO community to discuss strategies for addressing this challenge. Those early discussions — convened by F&ES alum Scott Wallinger
, a retired senior vice president at MeadWestvaco and proponent of sustainable development — would mark the beginning of the Sustaining Family Forests Initiative
And since its beginning Mary Tyrrell has guided its growth.
The Sustaining Family Forests Initiative, which now receives funding from the U.S. Forest Service, has trained more than 1,200 natural resources professionals from 400 organizations over the past decade. They have hosted more than 44 workshops in 31 states.
At these workshops, Tyrrell and her team have helped these professionals better understand the attitudes and behaviors of landowners and develop strategies to meet their landscape goals by engaging these landowners in stewardship and conservation actions.
The process helped bridge a gap between the needs of landowners and the resources available from forestry professionals, said Brett Butler
, a research forester with the U.S. Forest Service and former co-director of the SFFI.
“The family forest owners are trying their best to be good stewards and want to have more knowledge of what to do with their land,” he said. “But a lot of them don’t know what to do.”